Thursday, July 30, 2009

Life, According to Chaplin

Author's note: I had a hard time coming up with something for Chaplin; it seems appropriate for such a complex man. This isn't one of my favorites, but I hope you like it. It's based on one of his quotes: "Life is tragedy in close up, comedy in long shot".

tragedy in close up:
the shriveled hands of poverty
brought him forth that April day
into a world that destroyed every dream
his spark became a lantern
that led him to escape -
a world free of the sounds of toil and pain,
unorthodox, quite volatile and strange.
there are no scripts to study his genius -
the little tramp put heaven in a flower,
the simple joy of living in his walk,
love became a child dressed in rags.
his views were "dangerous" and led to exile
but eventually, the error of the masses faded;
and as he wept, they honored his life's work -
comedy in long shot.

Charles Chaplin

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Hallelujah! (1929)

King Vidor was ready to make a talkie. For his first attempt, he attempted something novel: a musical with an all-black cast. What he created is nothing short of a masterpiece. Thanks to the early Vitaphone system (which synched film with sound disks, rather than the sound being directly on the film), he achieves probably the best early talkie I've ever seen. Instead of being creaky and stagnant it bursts with life. From the first shots of the people in the fields to the last happy notes Zeke sings, it is natural, fluid, and moving in every sense of the word. Sure, the synch-up isn't perfect, but you won't even notice, not with such touching performances by Daniel L Haynes and the luminous Nina Mae McKinney.

There is a disclaimer at the beginning; WB doesn't want to be seen as propagating racism. Although many of the depictions are dated stereotypes, what this picture has is a very human story, one for all of us: we all have fallen, and we all have fought our way back from adversity. This is what sticks with you, and what deserves watching.

I give this one:

Arab Death in Cincinnati

"The wickedest woman on the screen"
Theodosia cum Theda, at any cost
To the gears of the publicity machine,
The wickedest woman on the screen
Remembered for playing Egypt's queen;
Like Theo herself, that too is lost.
The wickedest woman on the screen -
Theodosia cum Theda, at any cost.

Theda Bara

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Three Wise Girls (1932)

What a delightful little Thirties gem! It reminded me a lot of Three on a Match, which was also very good - and released in the same year. Typical soaper about women trying to make it in the Big City, and how they get mixed up in loving married men. Harlow does an affable job; not her best work, but not bad at all, and intensely likeable. Having said that, Marie Prevost as Dot stole the picture. So cute, so cuddly, so funny! With snappy dialogue, plenty of pre-Code risqueness (and lingerie), and Mae Clarke's hard-boiled performance, this is my favorite Jean Harlow movie - right after Red-Headed Woman. It's a shame it's not shown more often.

I give this one:

Monday, July 13, 2009

A Title? Damfino

Sheer comic bliss for every fan,
From "One Week" to "The Cameraman".
Who made this work they idolized?
The man with stardust in his eyes.

'Til one stroke with a fountain pen
Propelled him to the Lion's den;
They snubbed and underutilized
The man with stardust in his eyes.

His brilliance dulled by angst and drink,
His future teetered on the brink -
But Fate would change, revitalize
The man with stardust in his eyes.

It brought him Eleanor, his wife,
And retrospectives of his life;
They loved his work, and truly prized
The man with stardust in his eyes.

If I could write his epitaph,
I'd say he lived to make us laugh...
His kind of genius never dies.
The man with stardust in his eyes.

Buster Keaton

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

A Helium article from 2008

Biography: Nita Naldi

© 2008 Jennifer Ann Redmond

She may have been born on April 1, but Anita Donna Dooley was no fool. Being born into working-class New York, circa 1897, will do that to a person. Her upbringing gifted her with a sharp mind, and her Irish-Italian heritage blessed her with smoldering good looks.

"God made showgirls and Paramount made actresses." ~ Nita Naldi

In her day, if a girl was beautiful and possessed a modicum of talent, she became a showgirl. Dooley, freshly rechristened Nita Naldi, danced her way up through the ranks to the legendary Ziegfeld Follies. She and her fellow performers shimmied, sparkled, and caught many an eye nightly. In 1919, one of those eyes proved lucky indeed: it belonged to John Barrymore, one of the greatest and most well-respected actors of the era. Dazzled, he insisted she play opposite him in his next picture, "Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde". The 1920 film was a hit and a new star was born.

"On the vamp matter, I just don't happen to look like an ingenue..." ~ Nita Naldi

In fledgling Hollywood, much as it is now, actors were typed in to categories based on their appearance. The striking Naldi was quickly labeled a "vamp" an early forerunner to the femme fatale. Popularized by Theda Bara almost a decade before, the vamp was dark, exotic, and most of all, seductive. Naldi's ability to slink and slither to the hilt earned her the role of a lifetime: Dona Sol, Rudolph Valentino's dangerous temptress in 1922's "Blood and Sand". Their screen chemistry was explosive, the press labeling her the "female Valentino". Her career skyrocketed; by the mid-20s she appeared in DeMille's original (but no less epic) version of "The Ten Commandments", and was cast alongside the greatest stars of the day most notably Valentino, with whom she made three more pictures.

"They always hated me because I spoke English correctly." ~ Nita Naldi

After traveling abroad to make films in Europe, Naldi returned to an industry that had changed drastically. The vamp had become laughably out of fashion, and her gritty New York accent recorded badly in the new "talking pictures". She retired from the screen in 1929, occasionally appearing on Broadway and in television. She married the same year, a union that lasted until her husband's death in 1945. Nita Naldi, one of the silent screen's greatest vamps, died of a heart attack on February 17, 1961. She was 63 years old.

Scrubbie's Sonnet

Her liquid gaze could melt the coldest heart,
Her perfect face framed ‘round by ebony;
Since early on her dancing was an art –
Lithe hands and limbs in quaking ecstasy.
Not one to walk on eggshells, biting wit
And knife-blade tongue would often trouble make;
But unrelenting, in the face of it
She’d stand, too proud to let it see her break.
From featured player to forgotten star,
To author/critic, razor-edged and quick:
A sharpened, honey-coated scimitar,
A heady blend of sex and arsenic.
With such a life – complex beyond compare –
How strange her strongest legacy’s her hair.

Louise Brooks

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Grandma's Boy (1922)

I've been wanting to catch this one for awhile now. Luckily, my rickety old VCR caught it yesterday morning. This was the picture that took Harold Lloyd from short subject comedian to true star, and I can see why. Charming, warm, heartfelt, yet still silly and quite funny. I loved the "crank" and "kittens" bit (no spoilers from me!), and I was cheering (yes, in my living room, LOL) at the end when he comes into his own. ^_^

I give this one:

Dancing Mothers (1926)

A cute little soap opera of love, cheating, and independence, with the impeccable Clara Bow (billed third). I'll admit, I got confused halfway through, but then unraveled who was involved with who and was fine. Alice Joyce was a little too much the martyr for me (at least until the end). Clara lights up the screen as usual, injecting movement and life into static scenes which could've easily become boring.

Not my favorite, but not terrible either.

I give this one:

The Smart Set (1928)

I defy anyone to watch this movie and not fall in love with Billy Haines. He is silly, frenetic, and incredibly charming in this picture about a polo player (!) who has to prove his worth after his arrogance gets him booted off the team. First third of the movie was rather slow...and then we got to the dinner party. *laughs* Very funny stuff, kids. Comedy and some rather scary dramatic moments blended beautifully through the rest of the film, and although you see the end coming a mile off, you'll still cheer. Alice Day was good as the love interest, although I can't see someone staying as reserved as she did with Billy around. =D

I give this one:

The Navigator (1924) and Our Hospitality (1923)

Being that I forgot about these reviews (for shame!) they will be short and sweet.

The Navigator:

Sweet, funny film. Not my favorite of Buster's - seemed a bit overlong - but definitely enjoyable. Our Hero winds up adrift on a passenger boat along with his best girl - and encounters quite a few obstacles whilst trying to get to land. The best sequence for me was attempting breakfast in the kitchen. *grins* I can't help but wonder how much of it was made up on the spot.

I give it:

Our Hospitality:

This was good. Our Hero falls in love with a girl...only to find she's a member of the family his family's been fighting with for years! A Hatfield-McCoy spoof that is very effective. I loved the dinner sequence, with the brothers. Giggled myself silly through the whole picture. =D

I give it:

Girl Shy (1924)

This was a super-cute picture. Harold plays a fellow who gets painfully shy around women...but thanks to much covert study (and a fertile imagination!) he has written a book on "How to Make Love". While en route to the publisher, he meets up with a lovely young woman (played with genuine sweetness by Jobyna Ralston) who has issues of her own, and the two falter their way into a real romance. Will it succeed? Will they triumph over the things in their way? Will Harold develop a dependance on dog biscuits? You'll have to watch it and see. This movie has no slow spots - and one of Lloyd's greatest chase sequences at the end. One of the first pictures in the new "romantic comedy" genre, and a terrific one at that.

I give this one:

The Kid (1921)

Typically, I'm not crazy about Chaplin's stuff. Don't get me wrong, he's brilliant, but I don't connect with it as much as with Keaton or Lloyd's work. But this...this was a masterpiece. I was floored with how much beauty Chaplin imbues his simple story of a man and the child of whom he is "practically" the father. There is a moment in the picture where The Tramp is fighting to keep his little boy (played with astonishing ability by Jackie Coogan); he becomes a wild animal, rabid desperation in his's haunting and deeply effective. You'll run the emotional gamut from giggling to sobbing and back again. This isn't called one of his best for nothing - please, if you ever get the chance, see The Kid.

I give this one: